Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wonderland Trail in a weekend

Brock Gavery and Sam Thompson planned to head out and run the Wonderland Trail this past weekend. It was something that I've wanted to do, so I asked if I could go, and I joined in. I had run the Wonderland Trail from Mowich Lake to White River (the long way) last year, but I still had yet to do the whole thing in one push. Brock/Sam planned on stopping in Longmire for dinner and a short bivy, but otherwise they were going to run/hike straight through.

We each dropped off a small bag at Longmire before we started, containing a bivy sack, a little food, and a couple extra pieces of clothing. The Inn would not hold these bags for us, so we tied them to a tree in the woods, hoping they would be there when we arrived the next day. After dinner and a trip back to Mowich Lake, we took at three hour nap before our expected 12:45 am start.

Night travel was slow, and we started to wonder whether we would actually make it to Longmire by the time the restaurant closed at 7:45pm that night, 60 miles away. Once the sun came up, however, we started to speed up a lot on the downhills, and we pulled into White River at 8:15am. The longest, fastest downhill section, however, was a somewhat quad-busting section coming down from Indian Bar to Box Canyon. The climb up to Reflection Lakes took forever, as we were tired and knew that we did not need to hurry anymore, but once at Reflection Lakes, more long easy downhills led us into Longmire at 5:20pm (16 hours 35 minutes).

Dinner at the Inn was fabulous: pasta, soup, bread, beer, cobbler for dessert. Looking at the amount of food I had in my pack, I'm glad I could load up on the calories at the Inn for Sunday, as I had not brought my own dinner along. After dinner we wandered into the woods and found a nice soft spot in the forest on which to lie down. I put on all my warm clothes as it was fairly chilly out, but once in my bivy I was quite warm and comfortable. We went to bed around 7:30pm and woke up again at 12:30am, ready for a 1:15am departure. Noone really wanted to do the trip from Longmire back to Mowich as we were all a bit sore from yesterday, but Mowich was where the car was so we had to go.

The second night was much colder than the first, and we kept some of our warm clothes on as we hiked half-awake up and down the ridges, awaiting the light of the day to perk us back up again. We really didn't run until daylight, and we were averaging about 2.5 miles per hour for most of the first half of the second day's "run". We did find a very nice runnable section towards the end, from Golden Lakes down to South Mowich Camp, where we ran 6 miles in an hour, but otherwise we were mostly hiking the second day. We pulled into Mowich Lake campground at 2:15pm (13 hours). Total time car to car was 37.5 hours. The trip was a bit more grueling than I thought it was going to be; however, the weather stayed reasonable, we all made it back without too much injury and we did what we set out to do, so it was definitely a success. I'm glad it's over, though.

Sam has a slightly more detailed writeup on our trip.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Trioba 24 Hour Adventure Race

Now that I've recovered some, I can think back positively on the recent Triboa race out in Plain, WA. I raced with Andrew Feucht, Roger Michel and Beth Brewster. Beth was completely new to adventure racing, but she had just done an Ultraman (a double Ironman done over a 3 day period), so she was certainly in shape to run around with us for the weekend. Andrew was our logistics man, as Roger was flying up from the Bay Area, and I was coming back from Colorado (Imogene Pass / Hardrock hike) on Thursday night. Kathy picked up both Roger and me from the airport at the same time, in fact. I had Friday morning to do my laundry and re-pack for our adventure race.

Map handout was at 8pm on Friday evening, with the race starting at midnight. The course would take us kayaking across Lake Wenatchee and back, then hiking and biking along many of the trails on or near the Plain 100 mile trail run course.

At midnight, we headed off on our mountain bikes after a Le Mans start. Our first crucial decision came after we crossed the Wenatchee river - many people followed the main roads towards the checkpoint, but we headed south to take a shorter logging road, which did not exist (or so I claimed). Glenn (the RD) gave us a curious extra map that seemed useless, but it came into play as we headed south after missing our turn, finding another logging road that actually went through. After a long climb, we arrived at the location of the checkpoint and bushwhacked to the saddle. Beth thought we were kidding when we got off our bikes and told her we were hiking through the brush. She had never been off trail before. She was in for a new adventure this weekend for sure.

Next we headed back down the logging roads and to Lake Wenatchee to do our kayaking leg. We had borrowed Eric's triple (actually a converted double) and planned to tow a single kayak behind it. The major benefit of this setup was cost, as we did not need to rent any kayaks. However, the triple was far too small for three people to paddle together, and Beth, who was in the center of the triple, got so soaked that she almost went hypothermic before we stopped to let her change her clothes and put on a raincoat with a hood. I navigated while paddling the single, and I was also the designated gopher that hopped out to get the checkpoints. I wore my drysuit so that I could jump out in knee-deep water without having to worry about getting wet.

I enjoyed the kayaking leg. Several of the CPs on the far side of the lake were situated in marshes and sloughs that allowed for some navigation decisions as well as taking us to nice spots. My favorite spot was sliding through swamp grass to enter a lagoon on the southwest corner of the lake. Coming back out, we beached our kayaks in foul-smelling mud, which was not so fun.

After the kayak, we stripped off some wet clothes and headed out on our mountain bikes for a long climb up to the Mad River trailhead, then up more steep singletrack to a horse camp/transition area to the trek. By this time it was after 10am.

We trekked mostly along trails, with several forays bushwhacking up or along mountains in order to tag a checkpoint. At about noon, Beth sprained her ankle. Ouch! Andrew got her going again, saying it is best not to stop, and she kept going, albeit a little more slowly. At this point, we had three other teams ahead of us, and we realized that we probably would not be catching them, so we focused on finishing the race as well as we could.

The trek was long, and we finished at 7pm, just as the sun was going down. The day had been cool and cloudy, but a chill set in as night came on. The last section was on mountain bikes, with a long section of singletrack at the end described as "sweet" by the race director, although we used different adjectives such as "frustrating" and "insane".

We were staying up for the second night in a row, and we started to get silly. A smattering of light rain had moistened some of the dust, and I was absolutely sure that the ground was covered in a dusting of snow, even calling Andrew "such a liar" when he didn't see the snow. Beth was bonking at this point without realizing it, falling off her bike left and right as Roger stayed walking behind her trying to catch her. He eventually got her to eat some gels and she came around again.

Glenn had put a dozen CPs along the singletrack at the end to make sure that we rode it, and told us that the CPs would be easy to see from the trail. Apparently, the reflecting material did not reflect very well, because we had a very difficult time seeing the CPs, especially as we had been going for 24 hours already and were exhausted. Also, the singletrack twisted and turned all over, whereas the trail on the map went straight from one point to another, so we had a lot of trouble keeping track of where we were. As we did not want to have to backtrack, we went very slow in order to make sure that we didn't miss checkpoints. By the time we got near the end, I was already (figuratively) crying like a baby. I just wanted to go back to he lodge.

All the teams had trouble with the last several checkpoints, and only one team found them all. In retrospect, they didn't seem so hard. They were near well-recognized features by the trail as long as we were paying attention. The CP that we missed (CP28), however, was 20 meters off the trail where there was a "trail/snag". I assumed that this meant a dead fallen tree across the trail or something like that. Wikipedia defines a snag as a "standing dead tree" with perhaps a few large branches on it, so we were not even looking for the right indicator.

After we could not find CP 28, we decided not to look too hard for the next one. CP 29 was in a shallow reentrant off the trail. We passed one shallow reentrant and looked up it with flashlights (we had mostly dimmer flashlights because our batteries had run out on our HID lights), but could not see anything and moved on. We found another shallow reentrant later, but we also did not see anything up it. As we were already getting beyond where we had expected it based on the bike odometer, I decided to give it a small effort and hiked 5 meters up the reentrant to look. I still did not see anything, and turned around to tell the others. At that point, Andrew asked "what about that tape next to you?". I looked and saw I was standing next to Montrail tape. That's odd, why would they put tape and no CP? Then I found the CP slightly behind a tree trunk 3 feet away from me. I had been standing right next to it. That is how hard they were to find in our condition. Doing a double all-nighter is tough.

The last CP in hand, we enjoyed our bike back to the lodge and the finish line as we watched the sky lighten into dawn. We arrived at about 6:15am, a little over 30 hours after we started. Beth told us she was having fun. She'll definitely be back for more. Andrew did really well in spotting several of the difficult checkpoints for us, and Roger kept us together going forward well beyond when I wanted to quit. A week and a half later, I am starting to look back at the race with fond memories rather than profanities. Same time next year?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Hiking the Hard Rock

Running with James Varner the other month, I told him how the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier was one of my favorite trails. He indicated that it was one of his as well, but that the course for the Hardrock 100 mile trail run was his favorite trail. This made an impression on me, and so I decided to hike some of it during the week after the Imogene Pass Trail run, as I would be out in the area anyways. I asked my father to join me for an overnight trip from Tellurdie to Silverton, and he said OK.

The Hardrock 100 follows a 28 mile course from Telluride to Silverton at an average elevation of 11,000 feet. It crosses a 13,160 foot pass and it includes 10,000 feet of elevation gain. My father provided the camping gear, which was the heavy old school kind of gear. My pack was full after putting in the sleeping bag, pad and 3 person tent (for extra room). I barely had enough room to throw in a piece of warm clothing or two, then we were off.

Karen dropped us off in Telluride, planning to meet up with us the next evening in Silverton. The weather was looking grim, with expected rain and thunderstorms, but we were determined to give the hike our best effort. Karen left town with the car, and we were on our own.

The hike from Telluride up to the two passes (Oscars and an unnamed one) was the longest climb of the trip. We climbed almost 4500 feet in intermittent rain and sunshine. The views were as beautiful as James had said, though. As we neared the pass, we saw a thunderstorm way off to our right, and heard another way off to our left, but we crossed the 13,160 pass with sunshine above us and no fear of electrocution.

From Oscars Pass, we dropped down a steep, steep, rocky jeep road towards Ophir road. We missed the turn to Chapman aid station (or where it would be), but using our USGS quad and the course description, we quickly got back on track. I found it fun to try to follow the unmarked course; it gave an extra feeling of adventure and exploration to the trip.

We next climbed up Swamp Creek basin to Swamp/Grant pass. The last portion of this was across rocky scree-ish fields and then across a basin to finally climb up an almost impossibly steep slope to the pass. The slope looked impossible from a distance (due to foreshortening), but was a little more moderate when we got up close. We still slid back down the slope with every other step. The other side felt even steeper right near the top. I can't believe that people do this as a trail run.

Below us was Island Lake, and from there we dropped down to Lower Ice Lake and detoured off the Hardrock course to find a campsite. Darkness was threatening to set in by the time we set up our tent, and we quickly ate and crawled into our tent as the rain moved in. We were beat, having climbed a cumulative 7000 feet during the course of the day, even though we only went 15 miles.

I admit that I was a little afraid during the night when the thunderstorms set in. Lightning flashed brightly and thunder quickly followed, reverberating loudly off the peaks around us. I was so glad that we were 2000 feet below the pass, and that we had made it over all the passes without lightning setting in. Thunderstorms moved through every couple hours during the night, providing me a fitful sleep at best.

We woke in the morning to find a dusting of snow on our tent and on the mountains around us. Today was an easier day, so we took our time eating breakfast and packing up, and we hit the trail at 9:30am or so. Shortly after we started, we ran into Karen, who was hiking up to Ice Lakes from a nearby trailhead, having driven up from Silverton this morning. After a short chat, we continued on, while Karen headed up to Upper Ice Lakes for a day hike, planning on meeting us back in Silverton in the evening.

An animal trail took us down and across Ice creek to the Kamm Traverse. The course description marks certain spots as "Exposure. Acrophobia", but they weren't so bad. I might feel differently if I were trying to run along it though. After a fairly short exposed section, the Kamm Traverse joined an abandoned jeep trail which dropped down to the road, which we crossed. We forded a stream (ankle deep) and bushwhacked a short distance to pick up another trail that headed up and across towards Porcupine Basin. After the stream crossing in Porcupine basin, we lost the trail briefly, but just headed upwards until we picked it up again.

We gained the wide ridge and pass between Porcupine and Cataract basins. To our right we saw two wolves peering at us from over the ridgeline. They might have been red wolves - certainly larger than coyotes. Weather was moving in again as we moved along the ridge to climb up and over to Putnam basin. It started to snow, but at least there was no thunder/lightning as we scrambled to attain the highest ridge and dropped down to the pass and into Putnam Basin, our climbing finally done for the day.

The rest of our day was a relaxing descent down Putnam and Bear Creek basins to Silverton. The very end of the trail was very muddy and chopped up by horses that had come out of the horse camp by the road to Silverton. Not the best way to finish, but we were glad to be done. We looked forward to fording Mineral Creek to wash off our muddy shoes. The creek was about a foot deep where we crossed and refreshing. The other side of the creek was muddy and soggy, however, and our shoes got twice as muddy as before just trying to go 30 yards to the highway.

As Karen was waiting patiently for us to arrive in Silverton, we decided to call her and have her pick us up along the highway rather than hike the last mile or two into town. Then it was time for prime rib at the Pickle Barrel and a good night's sleep.

Imogene Pass Trail Run

My father has been talking about the Imogene Pass Run for a couple years, asking me if I would come out to run the race in 2010 when he turns 70. He wanted to break the 70+ age group record, and as he held the age group record for 65-69 year olds for a few years, he definitely had his chances. I signed up, as did Wayne, Kathy and Karen. It would be a family outing.

Kathy and I flew out from Seattle to Ouray, CO on Friday, the afternoon before the race. I've heard that if you do a race immediately after going to altitude, that it does not affect you that much. Don't believe a word of it. We were feeling winded in Ouray at only 7800 feet in elevation, and the trail run crested out at 13,1oo feet high.

Kathy and I had been to Ouray before a couple of years ago in the winter time to go ice climbing. Ouray is the ice climbing capitol of the world, at least according to us Seattle folks. There is no really good ice climbing in Washington state unless you like climbing up glaciers. In Ouray, we can climb one of dozens of frozen waterfalls within ten minutes of our hotel, and then come back and enjoy a warm soak in the hotel hottub.

The trail race turned out very nice. Threats of rain were not realized, although during the awards ceremony afterwards, marble-sized chunks of hail rained down on us. I squeaked a few times when I was conked on the head by a particularly pointy hailstone. I was glad that the mountains spared us this weather earlier in the day when we were hiking our way over the pass.

I did a lot of hiking during the race. The course is 17 miles long and has 5500 feet of elevation gain from Ouray up to Imogene Pass over the cours of 10 miles, then drops 7 miles and 4500 feet into Telluride. I tried to run as much as I could, but is hard with one lung tied behind your back. Even so, I felt pretty good and finished the race in just over three hours time.

Wayne tried a different training tactic in which he ran 7 miles a couple months ago and then never ran again. He relied exclusively on his good running genes that he got from our dad. he finished in four hours, then promptly passed out before he even made it out of the finishers gate. This unofficial study of twins suggests that months of hard training will only decrease your finishing time by 33% compared to sitting on the couch and listening to Chinese language tapes.

My dad had a good race too, but not quite good enough to beat the course record. I think he was three minutes too slow, but he did win his age group (like he usually does). Karen and Kathy had more relaxing runs. Everyone in the family made it safely to the finish line in Telluride. Looking at the medic tent, I could see that many people did not; many were having their hands and knees patched up after having suffered falls on the steep, rocky run down.

I've told my friends that often the drive home is harder than the race. I was refering to doing 24 hour races (e.g. adventure races, rogaining) in which it is very easy to fall asleep at the wheel after having stayed up for so long, but it was true in this case as well. Our friend's dog tried to lick my face, and I playfully pretended to lick his as well. Then he bit me in the face. Now I have teeth marks on my eyebrow. Lesson learned: don't lick a gift dog in the face, or something like that.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Kayaking in Clayoquot Sound

Kathy wanted to go kayaking, so I decided that we should head up to Tofino for the week. Clayoquot Sound has a good mixture of open ocean kayaking and sheltered spots, and no matter what the weather, we could find someplace to go. I had only been there before for one day, so it was also a somewhat new area to me as well.
We drove up Friday and stayed at the Paddler's Inn. It was slightly overpriced for what we got, but it was right next to the Goverment Dock and was run by knowledgable paddlers. We also talked with another group that had just finished their paddle and told us of their experiences. Although they had nice weather, today it rained all evening and all night. Saturday morning was blustery and rainy as well, with wind gusts over 30mph. Luckily, the weather cleared out by the time we got on the water at noon. This was going to be a relaxing trip.

After a stop at my favorite coffee shop, the Common Loaf, we parked the car in a most-likely-to-be-there-when-we-get-back spot and headed on out. We crossed the channel to Opitsat, a small Indian community across from Tofino that is served by occasional water taxis, then we headed up around the east side of Vargas Island. We lunched at a gravel bar, pulling out the cooler from my Big Beast (I brought the PWS Sea Otter in order to carry the cooler), then spent the early afternoon wandering over to Flores Island. Swell came in from the outside coast in spots, giving Kathy a taste of what it was like, and a tailwind kept us moving along. Kathy used Andrew's NDK Romany Explorer. She was still learning how to use the skeg, and in wind and waves it became a bit frustrating learning how to manuever correctly. She decided to use the Big Beast for the rest of the trip.
We landed on a beach just east of Whitesand Cove to camp. Rain appeared as we set up camp and stayed with us all night and into the next morning. The wind picked up, too, and blew sand through our tent, which was one of those tents that had only a mesh liners underneath the rainfly. I hope I don't wake up under a sand dune... At least the rain will keep the sand from blowing on us too, too much. I moved the kayaks next to the tent to act as a windbreak.
The next morning, we made sausage and eggs scramble w/veggies) for brekkie, watched a few diving birds through the binoculars, then headed out for a hike. We hiked along the Wildside Trail a short bit, which runs along all the beaches as far as Cow Bay, about 4 miles away. We also hiked a trail north towards the bay containing Ahousat, but turned back due to miserable-looking watery bogs in our path. At lunchtime, we decided to move camp down to a nicer spot on Whitesand Cove where there were more amenities (including a wooden pallet that acted as a table). After moving camp, we paddled our empty boats out toward Cow Bay.
Rounding the point, we started to enter areas of larger swell. My stormsurf forecast showed that 10 foot swells were expected today, dropping down to 3 to 5 feet for the rest of the week. As we got further along the coastline to the more exposed areas, the swells picked up to at least six feet and got steeper and steeper. I felt a little nervous taking Kathy out in these conditions, and we eventually turned back. Cow Bay was a good spot to see whales, but we would have little chance to seem them in these conditions in any case.
In the evening, we walked along White Sand beach to wash our dishes at a stream along the far end of the beach as literally millions of sandfleas jumped erratically around us. Kathy swore as she crushed their small bodies between her feet and her sandals. The sand was not even white here.
Monday was the best weather day - it only rained a couple times in the morning, then stayed overcast to partially sunny the rest of the day. Wind and swell were low. Kathy and I watched birds again, then eventually broke camp and paddled south. We stopped at Whaler Island to look at the campsites tucked into the edges of the dunes there, then continued on to the northwest side of Vargas Island. The weather report predicted 20-30 knot SE winds (not to mention rain) the next day, so we decdided to camp on one of the NW beaches, planning to go back around the inside of Vargas and back to Tofino in the morning. At this point, we have decided to cut our trip a day short, as the rain is a bit too much for us. Kathy practiced surfing into shore on small 1' waves. A sign warned about the wolves on Vargas Island. We saw wolf tracks in the morning. Or maybe fox. They looked a little small to be wolf. Maybe they were skinny wolves. An osprey circled above us.
We returned to Tofino on Tuesday just as the winds picked up, and we decided to go visit Port Alberni for the evening. It rained most of the way there, which made us feel good about our decision to stop early. Port Alberni has a nice river that runs next to town where we did some more bird watching. The next day, we washed all the sand out of our kit and headed home.